Can you describe the traditional types of pipe music?

Most "traditional" pipe tunes fall into one of these categories:

  1. Piobaireachd: (described separately).
  2. Marches: Usually in 2/4, 4/4 or 6/8 time signatures.  Used for parades.   There's one 5/4 march that I know of!
  3. Competition Marches:  Usually in 2/4, very ornate and intended to show off the pipers technical abilities.  Never intended for marching. Usually has strong emphasis designed into the first downbeat of the bar.
  4. Strathspey: A tune in 4/4 or "common" time used as the basis for many highland dances.  The tune usually helps to emphasize the dancers steps by having a pulse pattern that goes strong-weak-medium-weak.  Eight bars are repeated (64 beats) to form one "part" or "measure".
  5. Reel: A tune also used for dancing, commonly in 2/2 or "cut-common" time. Eight bars form one "part" or "measure" (16 beats).
  6. Airs: A slow tune, usually contemplative, commonly in 6/8, but can be in other time signatures. Many poignant tunes at weddings and funerals are airs.
  7. Hornpipe: A sprightly tune usually consisting of eight bars of 2/4 time repeated (32 beats) to form one "part" or "measure".  (Note: I personally further divide hornpipes into three categories: march-pipes (or freight-trains), reel-pipes, and sea-shanties.  I recognize that this is probably more related to how the tune should be played, but is a useful framework for me.)
  8. Jig: An infectious tune usually in 6/8 time, but can be written in 3/2 or 9/8 time and are then known as slip jigs.  Usually used for dancing and getting an audience to clap along.
  9. Retreat March: A march in 3/4 time usually used to retire from duty.


Copyright S.K. MacLeod 1996-2016